In Which Hope Is Hope Get Used To It
Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 5:14AM
Will in FILM, critics, evan rachel wood, larry david, will hubbard, woody allen, woody allen week

Whatever Works If You Made Annie Hall


In Woody Allen's new movie the main character Boris Yelnikoff tries to commit suicide twice, once landing on a piece of taut canvas and once on a woman that can see into the future. His life is a failure but he's got a great apartment; his friends are aging and moronic but everyone's still getting laid. The emotional stakes are so low that the movie's funniest aspect may be that Allen expects us to care when his protagonist falls in love.

Boris is played as well as could be expected by Larry David as Larry David for Woody Allen. It's hard to know what his character is trying to accomplish by repeating the inane phrase "Whatever works" over and over, though it's easy to understand what the filmmaker is implying—that it's possible to live godlessly if you have a single verbal statement that at least partially explains all human behavior. Like "There is no true God but God." Or "Are You Ready For Some Football?" Forrest Gump was too slow to believe in God but had dozens of these mantras, none of which made much sense either.

Let's take the comparison further, shall we? Both Boris Yelnikoff and Forrest Gump fall in love with a blonde Louisianan who uses them for money while fucking other dudes that either have AIDS or are actors living on boats. Both "tell it like it is." Both do not seem to be able to drive cars. The only difference I can think of is that one is a hyper-smart Jew and the other a retarded Gentile. Is the linear spectrum of intelligence actually a circle, like space-time?

All jokes aside, Allen's Boris does raise hard questions. The Hindu prophets gave us "there is the greatest misery in hope; in hopelessness is the height of bliss," but Boris seems to think he came up with it. He finds life chaotic, black, not simply devoid of hope but opposed to it. On the surface it's brave to write a character like this, but really, Woody, the only way to make him into good comedic cinema is for him to fall in love? One hopes that there could be another way.

And let us all agree that you should never get someone from one state in the South to mimic the accent of another Southern state, which is the crime Allen perpetrates in forcing Evan Rachel Wood, a North Carolinian, to pretend to be from Louisiana. She becomes more tolerable when she starts schtupping Larry David, uhhh Woody Allen, I mean Boris, but her incarnation as Melodie St. Ann Celestine will remain a miscasting for the ages.

Her mother, played by the elegant Patricia Clarkson, presents a more engaging problem—she's both whip-smart and completely benighted, an accurate Southerner to Ms. Wood's synagogue stereotype. As such her metamorphosis, just implausible and funny enough to constitute functional social parody, is one of the film's brighter points.

Larry David doing his best Woody Allen and a twelve year old asian girlI have read that people in the know don't really like this film. The Upper West Side audience with which I viewed it applauded loud and long, but I didn't make much of that reaction since they characterize the bulls-eye of the the film's marketing dartboard. My mother, who was also there with me and is a huge Woody fan, did not seem too impressed. I thought maybe she thought it was too darkly nihlistic, but she said later that it was Larry David that irked her, in a "two hour dose" rather than the thirty-minutes-broken-by-commercials one she's used to.

I thought to myself, hmmm. A Southern lady who watches Curb Your Enthusiasm, not exactly a snug-fitting peg in the Woody Allen's cosmology. But again, here as literally anywhere else, whatever works.

Will Hubbard is the executive editor of This Recording. He tumbls right here.

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